“Not your typical US law firm,” was how trainees described the London hub of Pittsburgh-born Reed Smith.
There Is A Lighthouse That Never Goes Out
Forged in the furnaces of Pittsburg's 19th century steel boom, Reed Smith emerged from the smelter a favourite for getting America's industrial corporations off the ground. The firm is big (2017 revenue grew 4% to $1.12 billion placing the firm in the US top 25) but it doesn't quite behave like any old snooty, finance-obsessed American firm. This is possibly because of its earthier, off-Wall Street beginnings, and the fact that London is its largest office these days, so work is often home-grown rather than handed down via Skype calls. “Reed Smith isn’t a US firm in terms of its culture,” thought our interviewees, emphasising the friendly and sociable atmosphere and hours more typical of a London firm.
“There’s an even split here between litigation and transactional work.”
Heavy industry, trade and financing it all has been the firm's bedrock, but recently things have got pretty varied and techy too – including significant investment in funky AI for lawyers. Our sources liked that “there’s an even split here between litigation and transactional work.” Chambers UK awards Reed Smith top rankings for shipping, media and entertainment, commodities, and insurance work, and the firm is also ranked in London for its mid-market corporate M&A practice and a score of other areas. It's also rated highly for its shipping litigation and climate change work by Chambers Global. And the firm is growing: in London this year there was a spate of lateral hiring including the arrival of a 50-strong team from defunct firm KWM. a low-cost ‘legal services hub’ in Leeds which will support its practice across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Before starting their contract, trainees list their top four seat preferences. “It’s a well-run system,” sources said of seat allocation. “Obviously it’s weighted towards second-years, but most people get the seats they want.” One interviewee added: “Secondments are strongly recommended but they’re not compulsory. You interview directly with the client for them.” There are also overseas seats in Athens, Dubai and Singapore.
Car-go for it
The shipping team at Reed Smith primarily focuses on litigation, although there is a sub-section that operates on the transactional side. The firm recently represented a shipowner after its vessel hit a jetty in the Bahamas, causing approximately $24 million worth of damage. The case is currently pending in the Bahamas Supreme Court. Lawyers also acted on behalf of Dutch salvage company Ardent in a major operation in the South Pacific to salvage both the vessel and its containers after a shipwreck. The department covers wet and dry shipping matters, and works on behalf of P&I clubs as well as shipowners. Trainees involved in wet shipping matters had worked on disputes arising out of collisions, sinkings and fires, while those on the dry side focused on contractual disputes about ships and cargo. “As a trainee you get a lot of responsibility,” we heard. “Whether you’re drafting pleadings, witness statements, arbitration requests or going to hearings at a local court, there’s always enough work to go around.” Interviewees added: “Even though there was a lot of research, I didn’t feel like I was doing menial tasks or work that wouldn’t be seen.” Finally trainees reported: “It’s a fun and supportive group balanced out by some partners who are a little more old-school, but when they do give you praise you feel like you’ve really earned it!”
"You’re drafting pleadings, witness statements, arbitration requests."
Reed Smith’s commercial disputes group covers finance, insurance, white-collar crime, media and international arbitration. Trainees range across these areas, but their work may veer towards one particular field depending on their supervisor's specialism. Clients include BT, Bauer Media, Bradford & Bingley, Barclays and ITV. The international arbitration team recently represented NUKEM, a leading German nuclear contractor, on a number of disputes surrounding contracts with a power plant in Lithuania. On the banking front, lawyers obtained a $40 million judgment for Barclays against a Dutch company and its Indian parent for outstanding funds related to a loan. The firm has also acted on behalf of the ministries of justice and finance of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
“I had to do a lot of analysis of long and complex documents as part of large pleadings,” one interviewee reported. From another source who'd done banking litigation we heard: “Most of my work was research for pre-action correspondence, and I was also given management over a small court claim.” A trainee working on white-collar litigation told us: “It’s a very up-and-coming department. What’s great is you’re right on the front line as a trainee because it’s a solicitor-led process.” Tasks include “drafting interview questions, bundling, co-ordinating with clients and working on task lists.” The work's demanding, but trainees felt: “It’s testing but if you can enjoy the work while being under the pressure of deadlines and working across different time zones you know it’s the work for you.”
The corporate team recently worked with tax and media lawyers at the firm to advise on two deals for music platform SoundCloud. The first was related to debt fundraising to develop a financially sustainable platform, and the second involved lawyers in the UK, US and Germany working on a restructuring of the business. The firm also advised Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis – of Dragons’ Den fame – on the sale of Red Letter Days, which pioneered the idea of experience gift vouchers, to European rival Smartbox.
Lawyers cover all kinds of work: “private and public M&A, commercial contracts, competition, tax…” One source reported: “I’ve worked on a few M&A deals, an AIM company listing, financial regulation and terms and conditions for a bank. The work's not sector-based so you could find yourself working for anyone from a retailer to a bank to a pharmaceutical company.” The department was recently boosted when it swallowed up a number of partners and associates from KWM following its collapse, increasing its public companies offering as well as its general capacity. There are always five trainees in corporate at any one time, which means “you’re a pooled resource, so you can help each other out and try new areas you might not get to otherwise.”
Over in financial regulation, the team recently advised gemstone supplier and mining company Gemfields on its attempt to thwart a hostile takeover by Pallinghurst in Johannesburg. Unfortunately for Gemfields, the offer was accepted and Pallinghurst was able to delist Gemfields from AIM. The firm also handles work for leading trade associations, and recently replaced Norton Rose Fulbright as advisers to the Commodity Markets Council Europe, which the firm's advising on regulatory reform in the EU. Lawyers are also helping the European Federation of Energy Traders on Brexit-related issues. The team covers corporate and insolvency support, payment services regulation and also works in the FinTech sphere. Like corporate, this team was also bolstered by partners and associates arriving from KWM, adding further clout to its already broad reach. “You don’t get as much client contact in financial regulation because advice has to go through a qualified lawyer,” one interviewee revealed, “but I actually felt the responsibility was greater. I was doing the first draft of advice notes, researching topics and laws, as well as doing due diligence.”
“We deal with a lot of property managers and commercial estates groups.”
Reed Smith’s real estate team has acted for London & Regional Properties on over £1.1 billion worth of property refinancings recently including those of its own headquarters in London, a portfolio of Holiday Inn Hotels, and 99 City Road, one of the tower blocks on London's Old Street roundabout. The team also acted for Reuben Brothers on its purchase of 27 Knightsbridge for £110 million. “I’ve been able to work on the transactional and litigious side,” insiders revealed. “We deal with a lot of property managers and commercial estates groups, and I’ve worked on a few big mergers.” When it comes to responsibility we heard: “You’re able to run your own small matters from start to finish. For example, a transactional matter would involve getting a licence for a client and negotiating the terms with both sides.” Sources added: “You do get support, but it’s balanced with a fair amount of independence.”
Netflix and bill
The media practice at Reed Smith has a number of household names on its books including the BBC, Channel Four, Netflix and Samsung. The team recently advised private bank Coutts & Co on financing deals for Hollyoaks, Celebs Go Dating and Love Your Home and Garden. It also advised McDonald's on advertising campaigns and promotional materials, providing strategic and data protection input. Sources revealed: “Each partner has their own area and as a trainee you work with as many different people as you can.” They added: “I’ve been reviewing licensing deals, assisting with general research and researching potential litigation.” Clients also include “smaller companies that are just starting up and businesses in the music and social media industries.”
"It’s fascinating because you become the client."
As previously mentioned, trainees are strongly encouraged to go in-house or abroad for a secondment. All of the trainees we spoke to had undertaken one, and described them enthusiastically as “the best thing ever.” One elaborated: “It’s fascinating because you become the client.” A trainee who'd been out to a client told us: “I had an insane amount of drafting experience and was leading negotiations, while liaising with many different parts of the business.” Another source reported: “I was drafting contracts, which was interesting because I was able to see how they’re actually constructed rather than just arguing about them.”
“As a trainee you’re expected to manage your own workload,” we learnt. “There’s no face time culture – the attitude here is that when you’ve done your work you can go home.” Hours were typically good, with most describing a working day of 9am to 6.30pm, with occasional stays till 8pm or after and reports of one or two all-nighters in seats like banking and corporate. “There are peaks and troughs, but that’s the nature of the beast,” sources reflected.
Culturally, trainees described Reed Smith as “inclusive and very down to earth. There are no egos here, which is not what I expected before I went into City law.” A number of interviewees drew attention to the firm’s “conscious effort to hire people from different backgrounds,” which we heard “grounds people because you don’t have a homogenous environment.” While the firm is pretty massive globally in London it's a mid-sizer, which affects the atmosphere, sources felt: “We have a significant number of lawyers but we’re not a magic circle behemoth, so I feel like that fosters a friendlier culture.” Insiders did note: “The firm has raised hours and pay for associates since I joined, which could signal a move towards a more American culture, but I still wouldn’t say we fit the stereotype of a US firm.” Another interviewee noted: “You’re not pigeonholed or siloed here, so you can ask multiple people for work.”
On the social side of things, interviewees reported a number of office-wide dos throughout the year, as well as events which future trainees are encouraged to come along to. “It’s nice to know the trainees before they start,” a current Reed Smither reflected. “Our intake makes an effort to go to the pub in Spitalfields on Fridays, and we attend lots of networking drinks and lunches.” Reed Smith’s “impressive” offices in Broadgate Tower near Shoreditch had sources raving about the “spectacular views” and “great facilities.” They said: “The only bad thing about the view is that I can see how much fun everyone is having in Shoreditch on a Friday night if I'm working late.” Others told us: “I’ve had many a friend come and take a cheeky Instagram of the sunset.”
"I’ve had many a friend come and take a cheeky Instagram of the sunset."
Trainees described a “formal” qualification process, with some complaining that there were “a lot of hoops to jump through.” Applicants are asked to submit a ‘qualification bundle’, collating feedback from their contract, along with a CV and cover letter. Many felt: “It can be stressful but the upside is that there are no backhand deals.” In 2018 the firm retained 20 of its 26 qualifiers.
“It’s an exciting time to join the firm,” insiders reflected. “Our clients are growing, deals are getting bigger and the firm is shifting towards a more global approach.”
How to get a Reed Smith training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 30 June 2019 (opens 1 November 2018)
Vacation scheme route
Candidates applying for Reed Smith's vacation scheme begin with an online application that covers the usual topics – academics, work experience, personal interests – and also asks “substantive questions about the candidate's research and understanding of the firm, and their motivations to join,” graduate recruitment specialist Grace Ambrose tells us. Following this, there's an online “situational strengths” test. Successful candidates are then invited to participate in a “strengths-based” interview with a member of HR and a partner or senior associate.
The firm's two vac schemes take place over June and July, with 12 students on each. During their visit students split their time between two different practice areas. Our trainee sources were plenty pleased with the set-up, telling us: “It was really well structured. We crammed in a lot of talks, presentations and business-style games, and there was even a mock trial.” One reported “undertaking research, attending meetings and helping prepare a client pitch – it really felt like I was contributing to something.”
“You also get to go on some fun excursions,” insiders reported. In the past, these outings have included the firm summer party, as well as a cocktail-making class in the office followed by dinner in Spitalfields. The firm interviews every vacation schemer for a training contract at the end of their visit. “We aim to take as many as we can. Usually we make offers to around 65% of them,” Ambrose reveals.
Direct applications for a training contract begin in the same way as the vac scheme process, with an online application and the situational strengths test.
Successful completion of these two stages leads to an assessment centre that involves a case study exercise, a strengths-based interview and a group exercise. For this last portion “each student is given the same brief and the group engages in a collaborative, problem-solving exercise. It's designed to see how applicants work in a team and how they add value into the discussions,” explains Ambrose.
Ambrose's advice for impressing? “Make sure you do some research before you arrive at interview, but more importantly make sure that you authentic and engaged. Do not be put off by the assessors in the room; try your best to relax and answer the questions in a natural way”
Demonstrating a solid grasp of the business world is key for nabbing a training contract with Reed Smith. “We want to hire people who have the right attitude and are commercially as well as technically strong,” says Ambrose, who suggests reading newspapers, watching the news and following companies/industries of interest to keep up to date with commercial goings on.
But simply being able to rattle off the latest mergers and public offerings won't take you all the way with this firm. “It's important to make sure you can link a certain development to something that might impact our law firm, or be able to explain why it could be important for business,” says Ambrose. She also cites work experience as “another great way to develop commercial expertise. This can be with legal or commercial entities, of course, but don't discount experiences such as working in the local pub – that's still a business, and you can develop valuable skills there, too.”
Reed Smith LLP
20 Primrose Street,
- Partners 118*
- Fee earners: 252* (excluding partners, but including trainees)
- Total trainees: 51
- *denotes UK figures
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Abu Dhabi, Athens, Beijing, Century City, Chicago, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Kazakhstan, Los Angeles, Miami, Munich, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Princeton, Richmond, San Francisco, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Tysons, Washington DC, Wilmington.
- Graduate recruiter: Grace Ambrose, Graduate Recruitment Specialist, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 25
- Applications pa: 1,500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20-22
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 30h June 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £43,000
- Second-year salary: £47,000
- Post-qualification salary: £75,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: GDL: £6,000, LPC: £7,000
- International and regional
- Overseas seats: Dubai, Singapore, Athens
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
We offer stimulating work in an informative, challenging and busy environment where your contribution counts from the year before you join, with our unique LPC/LLM programme, through to the end of your training contract. With four seats over two years, you choose the practice or industry group areas you would like to experience, as well as benefiting from a client or international secondment. Our intake per year is 25, meaning that at any given time, we will have 50 trainees in total. At Reed Smith, we encourage all trainees to partake in either a client or international secondment. There are a number of benefits we feel our trainees gain from doing so, including building commercial awareness and gaining knowledge of our clients, our industries and our business. There is a remarkable choice of secondments available for trainees. There are vacancies for training contracts commencing in August 2021 and February 2022.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Lenders (Band 5)
- Banking Litigation (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 4)
- Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 5)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Pensions (Band 5)
- Professional Negligence: Financial (Band 4)
- Public International Law Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 5)
- Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 3)
- Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
- Commodities: Physicals (Band 1)
- Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 2)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 3)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
- Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 5)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration Recognised Practitioner
- Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Film & Television (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Music (Band 3)
- Shipping (Band 1)